Some ad industry leaders have complained that recent college graduates are ill prepared for today's competitive environment.

Why? Because ivory tower professors, they say, are out of touch with the "real world."

Such concerns plague every generation of college graduates and ad agency recruiters. The real problem is with those who harbor these thoughts but do very little to change the situation. Maybe it's time for advertising people to give something back, for the sake of our industry's future.

An individual or company can do much to help improve education in any of the marketing communication fields: advertising, direct response, public relations and sales promotion. Every contribution results in a win-win scenario.

Students and teachers learn from your business experiences and expertise, and they benefit from improved resources. In turn, they give back to your company and the industry through improved performance and greater commitment to their future in the industry. And if you've considered teaching as a career, it's a great way to test the academic waters now.

Here are 10 ways to help improve advertising education, contribute to the future of the industry and experience some of the joys and frustrations of teaching:

1. Volunteer to be a guest speaker

Agency people have much to offer to a classroom of students or a student organization, and much of it is at your fingertips. You could discuss a recent case history or research study, present a new business pitch, or address a current ad industry issue.

Students love to hear professionals talk about their business and tell it like it is. Most professionals come away feeling gratified by the interest and appreciation shown by the students. For those considering teaching, this is a good trial balloon.

How do you get started? Select a nearby college or university, pick up the phone, and ask for the journalism or marketing department. Even better, contact your local ad organization for contact info. Many professors are members.

2. Donate resource materials

Every industry has syndicated research reports, directories, newsletters and other data that are periodically updated. Companies throw out valuable information that colleges can't afford to provide students.

Before tossing out those materials, contact a nearby college and offer them to the advertising, journalism or marketing department. They'll be thrilled to have current information.

3. Contribute or demonstrate new technologies

The new technology could be in design, print broadcast, or online production or media. For example, keeping up with the explosion of new media options is a challenge for instructors. What better way to educate students about real-world media challenges than by showcasing client success stories?

4. Offer service learning opportunities

Contact a professor or college department chair and offer a research project or case history assignment to a class. You can provide the students with a real-world learning experience and potentially receive something useful in return.

5. Become an adjunct professor

Most colleges need part-time, adjunct professors to teach advertising-related courses. In many instances, adjuncts are businesspeople interested in teaching one or two classes a semester.

Often, the classes can be scheduled in the evening or other time that accommodates your schedule. Adjunct professors help a department inject professionalism into its curriculum.

Teaching is a great way for professionals to get a feel for what students are capable of, which is helpful in recruiting.

6. Offer internships and training

Remember your first job search and how you felt the first time your heard, "We don't hire people without experience." Times haven't changed. Students need real-world work experience to learn and succeed. Companies that offer internships and training to undergraduate students provide a win-win situation.

Students get professional, on-the-job experience; companies get inexpensive, part-time help and the opportunity to recruit the best graduates and develop others who can better contribute to the industry.

A tip: If you want to recruit the best students, offer paid internships.

7. Sponsor a shadow day

If your company can't undertake a full-blown internship, offer a shadow day. Students interested in specific industries and careers can be invited to your company to shadow a professional during a day's worth of activities. Shadowing is an eye-opening experience for students, and a good recruiting and networking opportunity for you.

8. Support industry associations' educational programs

An agency can give time, money, information... or all three. Many ad industry associations offer a variety of excellent educational and scholarship programs.

9. Adopt a professor

Remember thinking that those "ivory tower" professors need to get out and visit the real world? Here's your chance to help. Invite an instructor to visit your company or shadow someone for a day or a week. Or offer a summer visiting-professor placement. It's an invaluable experience that allows professors to stay current with industry practices.

10. Underwrite a research project

Offer grant money to support research in specific areas. Ask a professor or student group to conduct proprietary research. These contributions provide rich research experiences and build the industry's body of knowledge.

* * *

Having advertising professionals involved with a college marcom program helps it become more competitive and desirable, and helps the program and the industry attract the best and brightest students.

When professionals give back to education, it creates a win-win-win situation for students, professionals and the industry.

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Robert Gustafson and Michael Hanley Robert is an associate professor and advertising sequence head at Ball State University, and Michael is an assistant professor there, in the advertising sequence.